Writing skills of 38 fourth and fifth graders in a Spanish-English bilingual program were assessed using a picture description task administered in both Spanish and English. The children had been rated by their teachers as ‘good’ or ‘poor’ on the basis of oral, aural, and reading skills in both Spanish and English, producing three groups: children rated good in both languages (GG), children rated poor in both languages (PP), and children rated poor in English but good in Spanish (PG). Measures of complexity, sophistication, and semantic content of the children's writing showed significant group differences, with the GG and the PG groups scoring better than the PP group in Spanish, as would be expected, but also in English. The fact that the PG group wrote longer, syntactically more complex, and semantically more complete essays than the PP group in English as well as in Spanish suggests they were transferring academic and literacy skills from L1 to L2 before their L2 oral-aural skills had developed very far. The poor performance of the PP group in English could be a reflection of their lack of academic and literacy skills in their first language.
Lanauze, M., & Snow, C.E. (1989). The relation between first- and second-language skills: Evidence from Puerto Rican elementary school children in bilingual programs. Linguistics and Education, 1, 323-340.